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Patriots notebook

Consistent with winning

Lack of change a key to success

Tom Brady knows the Patriots’ offense, and believes there are certain plays “that I’ve literally run thousands of times.’’ Tom Brady knows the Patriots’ offense, and believes there are certain plays “that I’ve literally run thousands of times.’’ (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / October 28, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have been to seven Super Bowls between them and won five, making them two of the most successful quarterbacks of their era. They agree one key has been consistency.

Brady has played for one coach in his career, Roethlisberger for two. Brady and Roethlisberger, who will face off Sunday at Heinz Field, are among the top 10 active quarterbacks in passing yards, touchdown passes, and passer rating, and maybe more telling, comebacks and game-winning drives.

The continuity allowed them to make mistakes and learn from them.

“It’s been very important for me to never really change offenses or learn new terminology, and I think we’ve just built on it over the years, things I learned 12 years ago when I came here,’’ Brady said. “There are certain plays in our offense that I’ve literally run thousands of times.

“You make a lot of mistakes over the course of those plays and you learn from them and hopefully you don’t make them again. It’s great for a quarterback to have that continuity with coaching and obviously the terminology of the plays. It’s been a huge benefit.’’

It’s a benefit not every quarterback enjoys. Jason Campbell, who played for four offensive coordinators at Auburn, had the same inconsistency once he was drafted by the Redskins in 2005, playing for two head coaches but having four offensive coordinators in four years. He then went to Oakland, and had to learn another offense.

Since he was drafted in 2005, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has seen four head coaches and seven offensive coordinators come and go. Under new coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, he’s having the best season of his career (eight TD passes, two interceptions, 1,090 passing yards, and 95.2 passer rating), but it took a long time to get there.

“I’ve always said that I felt bad for someone like Alex Smith out in San Francisco,’’ Roethlisberger said. “I think that’s really hard for a quarterback.’’

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin agreed that having consistency between a quarterback and head coach is essential, but acknowledged a danger in the relationship possibly becoming stale.

“I think continuity, particularly at that position, is a big positive, of course,’’ Tomlin said. “I think it expands the things that you’re capable of doing. I also think that you have to guard against getting too comfortable sometimes. It also sometimes potentially breeds a lack of communication or assumptions, and that can be dangerous. There are some positives and there are some negatives and you have to weigh on a daily basis.’’

Roethlisberger added, “Any time that you can get familiarity with a coach, with a coordinator, with a play-caller, whoever it is, I think it definitely makes it a lot easier on you.’’

Missing you

Linebacker James Harrison, recently named the meanest player in a poll of 287 NFL players conducted by Sports Illustrated, has been out since Week 4 after undergoing surgery to repair an orbital fracture, and his absence partially explains how the Steelers’ defense went from being the stingiest in the league against the run last season to 12th this year.

Without Harrison, Pittsburgh has moved Lawrence Timmons to outside linebacker, changing the dynamic a bit.

“He’s definitely a great football player,’’ Patriots guard Brian Waters said of Harrison. “Timmons has been in there a lot, and the one thing about him, he’s a very great athlete and he’s very good in pass coverage. So he adds a little bit of a different dimension than Harrison. But James Harrison is a great football player, and I’m sure they miss him.’’

The Ravens (170), Texans (180), and Jaguars (133) found ways to pound out rushing yards against the Steelers. The Patriots’ rushing attack is 10th in the league, coming back to earth against Dallas (101 yards) after putting up big numbers on the Raiders (183) and Jets (152).

“The running game is important every week, but you’re especially trying to set a tone when you’re going against a team like this that takes pride in stopping the run,’’ said Waters. “They want to hit you as best they can, they want to get to your quarterback, they want to be physical up front, and you definitely want to combat that as best you can.’’

Tall order

Roethlisberger has a reputation for being able to slither out of the pocket and keep plays alive, but it comes at a cost. He’s been sacked 20 times this season, the most of any AFC quarterback.

He’s one of the most likely quarterbacks to be hit, but because of his size (6 feet 5 inches, 241 pounds) he’s difficult to bring down.

“You’ve just got to rush him,’’ said Patriots defensive end Shaun Ellis. “You’ve just got to get after him because he does a great job of keeping plays alive and moving around in the pocket and finding open guys. We’ve just got to get around them and get him on the ground. Not try to go for the kill shot, just grab his arm and get him on the ground.’’

Injury issues

After being limited in practice Wednesday, Ras-I Dowling sat out yesterday because of a hip injury. Dane Fletcher (thumb) also missed practice. Josh Barrett (thumb), Leigh Bodden (thumb), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (toe), Albert Haynesworth (back), Jerod Mayo (knee), and Sebastian Vollmer (back) were limited. Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (ankle) missed practice for a second straight day.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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